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A group of newcomers on track for first Conference USA championship

The Conference USA Championship has existed since 2005 and, thus far, only one program acquired since the league’s mass Sun Belt addition in 2013-14 has reached the game: Western Kentucky in each of the past two seasons.

That’s about to change.

North Texas, a 2013 addition, all but wrapped up the C-USA West title with a 24-23 win at Louisiana Tech. The Mean Green trailed 17-10 at the half and 23-17 in the fourth quarter before going on top for good on a 14-yard Jeffrey Wilson scamper with 6:04 remaining and surviving a missed 53-yard field goal by the Bulldogs with 2:39 to play.

That victory pushed the Mean Green to 5-1 in C-USA play, one game ahead in the loss column of 4-2 UAB and 3-2 Southern miss. North Texas closes conference play with UTEP at home on Saturday and a visit to Rice on Nov. 25 — a pair of teams that are 0-8 in C-USA when not facing each other. And here’s the kicker: thanks to head-to-head victories over UAB and Southern Miss, North Texas needs only one win against UTEP or Rice to clinch its first West Division championship.

In the East Division, a pair of programs with new coaching hires appear on a collision course. Fellow 2013 addition Florida Atlantic, under new head coach Lane Kiffin, claimed significant control over the division with a 30-25 win over Marshall on Friday night.

The Owls are being chased by their South Florida rivals in another 2013 Sun Belt acquisition Florida International, led by a new hire in Butch Davis. The Golden Panthers moved to 4-1 in conference with a 14-7 victory over UTSA on Saturday.

FIU visits FAU on Nov. 18, with the winner seizing the fast track to its own C-USA Championship debut against (most likely) North Texas.